Becoming more and more entrenched in helping others improve their riding is just as addictive as improving your own, according to Emma Bawtree, former pro elite XC racer and founder of Wheel Woman and Krankin Kids in Nelson. “It’s all about the rush of seeing someone else discover their own love of a sport you love so much!” she says. Both organisations are committed to helping others improve their riding, with Wheel Women focused mostly on women, and Krankin Kids supporting the shredders of tomorrow. Despite her clear passion for encouraging others, Emma didn’t plan on a life of coaching. She was busy racing, running an adventure travel company and being a mum, when the idea of Wheel Woman was born, prompted by one of her friends.
“It all started in 2012, when a friend asked me to take her and some friends out and give them some tips,” explains Emma. “A few weeks later she said the ride had made such a difference to their confidence that they wanted to do it again. By the end of that second session she had pretty much convinced me to start a proper coaching business.”
Fast forward eight years and Emma is getting close to an incredibly exciting milestone: coaching her 1000th woman! “It’s been quite the journey since that first conversation,” admits Emma. “I was excited about the idea but also nervous… you know, would I run out of women to coach?” As it turns out, the answer is a resounding “no”. Since Wheel Woman began, Nelson’s reputation as a mountain biking mecca - and the trail network it offers - has only grown and, with it, interest in the sport from women. “In the first few years, I could name every woman I’d coached and recognize her on the street. As we close in on 1000 women, that’s obviously a bit harder, but I suppose that’s a good thing!” says Emma. Not only has it grown in numbers, but also in scope and region – Wheel Woman now runs workshops in Blenheim, Christchurch, Hanmer Springs and even the West Coast, as well as the annual Dirt Queens MTB Weekend.
From the Ground up
Emma says she is still largely focused on the beginner-intermediate segment, and really enjoys seeing the leaps made at that level. She says it’s often mothers getting back into biking or starting for the first time once they have some free time, or others trying to keep up with their partners or kids.
“It’s just so heartwarming to see women who are often timid, sometimes even on the verge of tears, break down those mental barriers and feel so elated because of that,” explains Emma. “I often have a few coaching sessions with the same women, and seeing their confidence grow, both on and off the bike, is incredibly inspiring.”
Apparently, those receiving coaching are equally elated. As regular, Amber Bonny, puts it: “Emma tailors her sessions to each individual. She is patient, encouraging and really gauges where you are at and how best to challenge you. This enables you to build confidence and skill without being pushed way outside of your comfort zone, and you can really feel the benefits from the coaching in every ride thereafter. Whether as an individual or in a group session, she inspires you to keep building your skills and get out there on the trails to have a blast!”
Emma says it’s really rewarding to see her coaching clients years later riding on a completely different level – something she had the chance to see firsthand recently when volunteering as a marshal, at the local Shred Like A Girl enduro. “There were 80 women racing and to turn up and see so many of the women I coached who have come so far, was just awesome.” When asked “why only women?” - Emma says it just seems to work. “In my experience, women seem to learn a lot more when you take away the testosterone,” she explains. “It’s still a very male-dominated sport so it can be intimidating for women, as most (not all!) are not as naturally confident. "They also just seem to have a lot in common, whether they’re moms or young and want to get outside. It’s all about giving them the tools and confidence to continue on their own and ride with whoever they want.”
Emma says feedback on her courses from the women, such as Louise, often reflects this: “Engaging, encouraging, confident and assertive in great balance. I found it really enjoyable, the format was perfect and it was super nice to share some collective stoke with other women in a non-judgmental space.”
The Next Generation
While coaching women is her passion, it garnered a lot of interest from parents who wanted similar coaching for their kids – thus inspiring Krankin Kids. “I got in touch with a teacher friend to work out some concepts and started with four or five coaches, one night a week, for ages 10 to 15. Now we run five days a week and coach 180 kids from ages 7 to 15 per term!” Like Wheel Woman, Krankin Kids is about growing a love for the sport and enhancing skills at the same time. Older kids who want to remain involved can do so through an apprenticeship coaching programme.
Despite filling her time with coaching, being a mum and running a travel business, Emma practices what she preaches and is always looking to improve her offering. With fewer international visitors and bikepacking gaining popularity, she is looking at leading supported women-only backcountry trips on trails such as Old Ghost Road… and she promises there’s more to come!
Words: Meagan Robertson
Images: Henry Jaine